Vision and skill drive digital transformation

From digital leadership to cloud cover, there’s a lot that government can learn from the digital practices of other sectors, writes Lourens Swanepoel.

Government faces many of the same challenges as businesses when it comes to navigating the opportunities and aches of digital transformation.

Emerging technology is rapidly changing the world in which we work. Last year there were reports of a NASA robonaut being trialled as part of the workforce by Woodside Energy to take on mundane and even high-risk tasks, to increase safety and free up workers for more innovative and meaningful work.

Most recently, Westpac announced it was trialling robotic process automation with some back-office tasks, while its customers deal with AI-enabled chatbots in its contact centres.

Lourens Swanepoel

Recent research by Avanade shows more than two-thirds of organisations plan to implement some form of intelligent automation within three years, while most leaders believe they must deploy intelligent automation to be leaders in their field. Those that don’t follow suit risk being left behind.

These new technologies are rapidly opening possibilities across sectors – including government – and leaders should consider the impact on their organisation and how to best lead their workforce.

Digital inside

We’ve seen more organisations automating workplace functions to make way for more efficient, productive and innovative workplaces. Our research found that some of the top benefits of intelligent automation include increased productivity (50 per cent), making more workers available for complex tasks and innovation (43 per cent), and reducing costs (43 per cent).

For example, we’re currently working with a business to make updates to its human resources system. It has introduced a chatbot that’s able to manage and process employees holiday requests; book these in the calendar, deduct time from that employees annual leave and set holiday reminders. This simple change frees members of the HR team to focus on managing more complex needs.

When it comes to the digital workplace, we see organisations building their digital future step by step, however it’s not only about the technology you adopt but also the culture you create around it. This is key for both business and government.

One of the biggest barriers to digital innovation is peoples’ fear of failure because it often underlies their resistance to change. Our research identified that most leaders believe internal resistance to change is limiting the implementation of intelligent automation.

Often it’s about how you incentivise people. That means encouraging staff to think about how they can experiment and make themselves and the organisation faster and stronger, rather than focusing on inflexible performance KPIs and annual reviews.

It’s also a question of vision. Road maps and similar tools for considering what’s possible now can open minds to new ideas, to a more agile and digital culture, and help develop capability for adaption. This mindset and ability gives people the confidence to embrace risk and experiment with digital innovation.

Cloud cover

According to Gartner, public cloud services revenue will have increased around 17 per cent year-on-year from 2016 to 2017 in Australia, in line with global trends. It isn’t hard to see why organisations are increasingly adopting cloud, given its many benefits.

For instance, we recently worked with a major utilities company to use Microsoft Azure cloud services to provide elastic scaling at times of high demand. During the annual billing process many interactions caused a spike on billing systems, CRM and content management. By using cloud, the company could pay for the capacity required at any given time and scale this up or down, enabling it to reduce operational costs while knowing it has a reliable infrastructure when needed.

There are other uses of cloud that government may also consider; a popular one is better communication to increase efficiency and productivity. For instance, cloud capabilities like instant messaging can enable user groups to communicate and share intelligence in real time, while Skype can support virtual meetings and significantly reduce the number of face-to-face meetings needed.

Digital leadership

A McKinsey report last year found a gap in digital competence at the board level and suggested that what’s required is not technical wizards at the helm, but rather a general understanding of the available technology and how it can be used to change business processes and improve internal and external communication.

Our research late last year also found a significant shift in leadership capabilities for a world driven by artificial intelligence and intelligent automation. The research found that more than half of global business leaders believed their understanding of new and emerging technologies, such as intelligent automation, will be more important for leadership than traditional specialisations like sales and marketing.

To build skills and expertise, we’re seeing organisations increasingly send their people out into the world to discover new ideas and opportunities in digital from other businesses and industries. This is something that leaders in government may also wish to consider.

Becoming a digital leader

There is certainly no cookie-cutter approach to becoming a digital leader, whether in business or government. But based on our experience, here are some of the most important things to consider no matter the type of organisation:

  • Focusing on the business outcome and vision, not necessarily the technology – what you are trying to achieve, and how technology can then help you get there.
  • Igniting enthusiasm among employees – by creating a digital workplace that encourages employees to innovate and contribute to business effectiveness.
  • Bringing everyone on the journey – employees need to understand the vision to be able to get onboard.

While there is no one a one-size-fits-all approach, it certainly starts with being bold and recognising the need to adapt. Digital transformation will not always be easy, but government can learn from examples in business that the benefits it brings cannot be ignored.

Lourens Swanepoel is the market unit lead for digital at Avanade Australia.

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